ACT Finds Most Students Still Not Ready for College

Student performance on the ACT essentially held steady this year, with slight improvement shown in the math and science parts of the college-entrance exam.

Still, 60 percent of the class of 2012 that took the test failed to meet benchmarks in two of the four subjects tested, putting them in jeopardy of failing in their pursuit of a college degree and careers.

The Condition of College and Career Readiness 2012, released today by the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit testing organization ACT Inc., includes performance information from students in the spring graduating class who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors, or seniors. This year, 1.67 million seniors or 52 percent of the U.S. graduating class took the exam.

“I was hoping with the focus [in the education community] on career and college readiness, we’d start to see a more dramatic improvement. We are still early in that,” said ACT President Jon Erickson. A greater focus on career and college standards and more attention to teacher professional development are encouraging signs, he added, but the output from a graduating class is not apparent yet.

The average composite score was 21.1—the same as it has been for the past five years. A perfect score is 36.

ACT Inc. has set “college-readiness benchmarks” in the four subjects it tests: English/language arts, reading, mathematics, and science. That is the measure needed to predict a student has a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher or a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a typical first-year college course.

In this year’s report, 25 percent of all tested high school graduates met the mark in all four subjects—the same percentage as last year. It had steadily climbed in the previous three years.

Fifteen percent of the test-takers met one subject benchmark, 17 percent met two, and 15 percent met three. Twenty-eight percent failed to meet the minimum standard in any area. <Read more.>

Via Caralee J. Adams, Education Week.

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ACT to Roll Out Career and College Readiness Tests for 3rd-10th Grades

ACT Inc. announced today that it is developing a new series of assessments for every grade level, from 3rd through 10th, to measure skills needed in college and careers.

The tests, which would be administered digitally and provide instant feedback to teachers, will be piloted in states this fall and scheduled to be launched in 2014, says Jon Erickson, the president of education for ACT, the Iowa City, Iowa-based nonprofit testing company.

The “next generation” assessment will be pegged to the Common Core State Standards and cover the four areas now on the ACT: English, reading, math, and science.

“It connects all the grades—elementary school through high school—to measure growth and development,” says Erickson. “It informs teaching, as students progress, to intervene at early ages.”

The assessment would look beyond academics to get a complete picture of the whole student, he says. There would be interest inventories for students, as well as assessment of behavioral skills for students and teachers to evaluate. (Read more, including the comments.)

Via Caralee Adams, Education Week.

It will fill a niche as the first digital, longitudinal assessment to connect student performance across grades, both in and out of the classroom, according to the ACT. The hope is to get information on students’ weaknesses and strengths earlier so teachers can make adjustments to improve their chances of success.

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Career Readiness Certificate Lands Jobs

In July, Kimberly Jackson signed a three-year contract with St. Joseph Medical Center to complete her medical residency. Less than a year ago, as she was completing her degree, Jackson found herself in dire straits. She was expecting to work as an administrative assistant at the hospital but cutbacks eliminated the job she was supposed to fill, leaving her unemployed and ineligible for unemployment compensation.

She needed a good-paying job in a hurry and the National Career Readiness Certificate provided the means to land just such a job within weeks.

Jackson visited her local One-Stop and learned about the National Career Readiness Certificate, which is issued by ACT, the same organization that administers the ACT college admissions test. The Career Readiness Certificate is an evidence-based credential that measures essential skills used in the workplace using WorkKeys assessments.

Jackson practiced the modules online, took the test and was awarded a gold certificate. There are four levels of certification — bronze, silver, gold and platinum. They are awarded based on applicants’ scores in each of three core skills: applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information.

For a bronze certificate, applicants must score at least a level three in each of these core skills. Achieving the proficiency required for a bronze certificate ensures applicants are qualified for 16% of the jobs in ACT’s occupational database. Read more.

Via Maraline Kubik, Business Journal Daily.

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College Entrance Exam ACT’s Validity Questioned

A new study has found that two of the four main parts of the ACT — science and reading — have “little or no” ability to help colleges predict whether applicants will succeed.

The analysis also found that the other two parts — English and mathematics — are “highly predictive” of college success. But because most colleges rely on the composite ACT score, rather than individual subject scores, the value of the entire exam is questioned by the study.

“By introducing noise that obscures the predictive validity of the ACT exam, the reading and science tests cause students to be inefficiently matched to schools, admitted to schools that may be too demanding — or too easy — for their levels of ability,” says the paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here).

ACT officials said that they were still studying the paper, of which they were unaware until Monday. But they defended the value of all parts of the test.

The authors of the paper are Eric P. Bettinger, associate professor of education at Stanford University; Brent J. Evans, a doctoral student in higher education at Stanford; and Devin G. Pope, an assistant professor at the business school of the University of Chicago. At a time when the ACT has grown in popularity such that it has roughly equal market share to the SAT’s, the authors write that misuse of ACT data could hinder efforts to raise college completion rates.

The research is based on a database with information about every student who enrolled at a four-year public university in Ohio in 1999. The authors obtained information about high school and college grades — and found their results consistent for students of different skill levels and for those who enrolled in colleges with different levels of difficulty in winning admission. (For comparative purposes, the authors also used data on students who enrolled in a private Western institution, Brigham Young University, and found the same patterns.)

Read more.

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The High School Work of College Readiness

The study, called “Mind the Gaps,” reminds us that far more high school students say they plan to attend college than the number of students who actually enroll. Cynthia Schmeiser, the president of the ACT’s education division, told a gathering here in Washington, D.C., today that the students who fall off the college pathway typically do so because they “have simply not had the same level of preparation for postsecondary [education] as other students.”

But “when kids are prepared for college,” Schmeiser said, “college achievement gaps narrow in remarkable ways.”

The ACT’s research already had found that key high school factors correlate with a better chance of college success, such as producing certain scores on its ACT college entrance exam, taking a strong core curriculum, and taking additional coursework in math and science. Doing those things makes it more likely that a student will enroll in college, hang around for a second year of college, get good grades and be able to skip remedial classes. …

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